When Genesis Skewered Televangelism With ‘Jesus He Knows Me’
Genesis took direct aim at televangelists with their 1992 single “Jesus He Knows Me.”
Originally released on the band's 1991 album We Can't Dance, the song’s structure came before any words were written.
"Phil [Collins] was playing really fast on the drums and I started playing a chord sequence on top of it," Tony Banks recalled in Genesis' 1993 concert film The Way We Walk. “I started playing this reggae rhythm on top of what he was doing because it was in the same sort of tempo, and switched to playing reggae underneath it, so we got the middle eight part, then the intro developed out of the middle eight. I think it works pretty well."
At the time, several notable religious leaders had become embroiled in controversy. Jimmy Swaggart, the southern pentecostal preacher whose weekly sermons were broadcast across the U.S., had been caught with a prostitute on two separate instances. Robert Tilton, pastor of the Word of Faith Family Church, allegedly swindled more than $80 million out of followers via his Success-N-Life weekly religious infomercial. Meanwhile, Jim Bakker, the minister and former host of The 700 Club and The PTL Club, was convicted of fraud and accused of sexual misconduct.
It was in these controversies that Collins found lyrical inspiration.
Watch Genesis' Video for 'Jesus He Knows Me'
“I believe in family / With my ever lovin' wife beside me / But she don't know about my girlfriend / Or the man I met last night,” the Genesis frontman sang in one of the verses, lambasting televangelists' insincerities over family values. Later, Collins addressed religious hypocrisy head on, singing: “Won't find me practisin' what I'm preachin' / Won't find me makin' no sacrifice / But I can get you a pocketful of miracles / If you promise to be good, try to be nice.”
The song’s subject matter was further amplified by its music video. In it, Collins and his bandmates played perfectly coiffed televangelists, projecting family values on the TV screen while enjoying an extravagant lifestyle behind the scenes.
Released as a single on July 13, 1992, “Jesus He Know Me” reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune was also positively received by critics, with Rolling Stone describing it as “a sharp indictment of televangelical piety.” Still, the track failed to find a permanent place in Genesis' live shows. Despite being performed extensively by the band during their 1992 tour, it never found its way a Genesis set list again.